[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on May 16, 2015.]
Recently, The Forum reported on a protest by the student group Bison Catholic at North Dakota State University.
The group had taken offense to a student-run entertainment organization’s decision to show the film “Fifty Shades of Grey” on campus.
The 2015 film, based on the same-titled book, tells the story of a fictionalized couple engaged in an erotic relationship involving bondage, dominance and submission.
In a May 7 letter to the editor, NDSU student Jenna Murphy explained that 1 in 4 of her classmates will experience rape or attempted rape during their college career.
She expressed her disappointment that the university, which has sent her emails asking how they can make NDSU safer from sexual assault, would allow a film that contradicts its own goals.
A feminist group on campus also took issue with the film, but responded by staying silent on the showing and instead committed to distributing educational materials alongside it.
Following the earlier article, a discussion erupted on Facebook in response to the protest. I found the vitriol toward the students disturbing.
“No one is strapping them to a chair to watch this movie,” one reader said. “Stay home, watch the Disney Channel and cry into a Lean Cuisine.”
“These idiots need a hobby,” another chimed in.
“Here’s my surprise face,” said another, mockingly.
“Isn’t this Déjà vu????” another retorted. “Oh yeah, the Muslims did this with ‘American Sniper’ … yawn … If you don’t want to watch it, don’t!”
So young people concerned about their fellow citizens attempt to inform others of dangers they see, and we throw insults and rotten tomatoes?
Thankfully, some responded more reasonably. One said she found it “refreshing to know that not all young people go with the populace. They aren’t threatening anyone with violence over it, are they?”
As people of faith, we should look at the world around us differently. And we are obliged to speak up in the face of indifference and ignorance, to be a light for those who have lost hope.
The concept of human rights, for example, would not even be if not for people of faith, who were first to propose the idea.
But as the students have learned, it’s tough to be a light in a world that has become blind to authentic goodness, truth and beauty.
One of the commenters extolled both the movie and books. She’s far from alone in having fallen for the trap that perverts that which was meant to be sacred. Just step into a Target store and you’ll see how difficult it is to avoid the “Shades of Grey” product display.
Those of us who find the embrace of this story troubling don’t understand how some who rail against sexual abuse don’t see the wrong in promoting the very mentality that leads to it.
The alerted conscience says, “No so fast. This is dangerous stuff.” But the one deadened rolls along blissfully with the tide, ignorantly feeding the machine.
One Facebook commenter suggested the students use their energy instead to help the “small, starving, neglected children” who have legitimate needs.
Indeed, there will always be more urgent issues calling to us, but if we don’t address the ills of our society at the front end, we’ll never foster a just world in which all human beings are treated with dignity and have their basic needs met.
And again, why would we discourage young people from engaging in a respectful protest like the Bison Catholics have done?
Who better to articulate truth than faithful young people on the cusp of adulthood? And what better place than a college campus that exists to enlighten and teach our younger generations to be citizens who care about those in their communities?
Finally, while the “don’t go if you don’t like it” statement might seem a reasonable solution on its surface, in reality, indifference is contrary to love.
Far from wasting their breath, the young protesters are standing for something out of genuine concern. In a culture that has become morally numb, we need the bravery of those who would risk the scrutinizing stares and callous comments to enlighten others.
Living our faith means stepping out of our comfort bubbles and sharing the truth in love. Oh, that we would all be as brave as these young people.
So go Bison? Or maybe better, go Bison Catholics and all citizens of faith and goodwill who would dare to say, “Enough is enough.”